By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. — Every team needs an Edwin Espinal, and the Curve are glad they’ve got him.
A two-time Eastern League all-star, Espinal’s batting average has hovered around the .280 mark, he leads the club in RBIs and his defense has been outstanding.
“To be honest, he’s been our most consistent guy all year,” Altoona manager Michael Ryan said of the big first baseman. “From the beginning of the season till now, he’s been our guy.
“He gets those RBIs and his defense is very underrated.”
“He’s a great teammate,” Curve shortstop Kevin Newman said of Espinal. “He brings a ton of energy to the locker room and he plays the game with a lot of passion.”
It hasn’t been easy for Espinal, though. Signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2011, the Dominican Republic native couldn’t speak English when he came to the United States, but he’s made a lot of strides on the field and off, too.
After a season in the Dominican Summer League, Espinal advanced to the GCL Pirates, then low-A Jamestown, West Virginia (A), Bradenton (high A) and Altoona (AA). He played in 111 games last season for the Curve, batted .289 and had 56 RBIs. And, he was an EL all-star pick.
Coming into the 2017 season, Espinal’s career numbers were good: .275 average, 255 RBIs, 477 hits, 96 doubles in 485 games.
“I’ve worked on my English,” he said, proudly. “We take English classes early in the season and hanging out with the American players has helped me a lot. I want to learn the most English I can.”
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Espinal also lost 20 pounds during the offseason and that’s helped his game, too.
“He’s a lot thinner than last year,” Ryan noted, “but he hasn’t lost his energy. We really look to him for that. He leads by example and is a joy to be around. When you see him, he puts you in a good mood.
“And, the other Latin guys really look to him.”
Being named to his second EL all-star appearance (there’ve been only four two-time all-stars in Curve history) was especially exciting for Espinal.
“I can take my son (Edwin Jr.) and my wife,” Espinal said. “That will be fun because he wasn’t born at this time last year.
“Having my family here this year makes everything so much easier,” he said. “It gives you a reason to get up every day.”
Long time major league pitcher Bartolo Colon has been a big help to Espinal.
“We practice together in the offseason,” Espinal said. “I respect him like my father. He gives me good information. I’m proud to have a guy like him on my side.”
Espinal said that Colon and former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez constantly remind him to approach the game with a positive attitude.
“If you think you can, then you can,” Espinal said. “If you don’t think you can, you won’t. You’ve got to dream.”
Espinal had an exciting moment this past spring training when he belted a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Pirates a win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I struck out in the same situation in the seventh,” Espinal recalled, “but I hit the homer in the ninth and it felt so good.
“When Clint Hurdle gave me a hug, it was one of the best moments of my career.”
Espinal’s motto is enjoy the game and play hard.
“If you don’t have passion, you’re wasting your time,” he added.